On September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack struck the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City, killing thousands and bringing all operations in the city to a halt. These items came from the Church Street Post Office, which served the WTC under its unique ZIP code of 10048 (no longer in use today). The post office was successfully evacuated during the attack, but within days postal employees were back at work to re-establish delivery service in the neighborhood.
None of the five mail clerks onboard the RMS Titanic—the largest mail ship of its day—survived the ship’s sinking on April 15, 1912, but eyewitnesses reported that clerks were working until the last minute trying to save mail aboard the ship. Sea Post Clerks were highly respected and handsomely paid, but had to endure cramped working conditions and dangerous voyages. Although none of the mail aboard the Titanic escaped the sinking, a few pieces that were delivered before the ship’s departure for New York survived to tell the tale.
Before the digital age, how did people get the message out for help when they needed it? Major General Nathanael Greene wrote a letter to shopkeeper Joseph Webb Jr. in 1778, asking for needed supplies for the army at Valley Forge. Greene had been appointed by General George Washington to lead and reorganize the Quartermaster Department, which were no easy tasks with dwindling supplies and a lack of support from Congress. The letter reads “On publick Service” to make clear that no postage was needed, so that the letter was sent as official business.
With the United States divided during the Civil War, postal patrons faced a new challenge: getting their letters across the wartime border. Families and businesses living on one side or the other had to rely on smugglers and private companies to carry the mail “through the lines” after an exchange ban in 1861. Although designated flag-of-truce exchange points were later established, letters could still be subjected to strict censorship.
Before mail routes were established across the United States, mail traveling between the East Coast and the West was sent via boat on a journey that went all the way around South America or was sent by boat and then by train across Panama or Nicaragua. The “Central America” steamer was on its way to New York City when a hurricane sank the ship off the coast of South Carolina on September 12, 1857. Over 450 people died as a result and 30,000 pounds of gold was lost with the ship. More than 130 years later the shipwreck was discovered, sans the mail, leading to a controversy over ownership.
Major disasters like tornados and hurricanes disrupt every part of the daily life. In the event of national disasters, the U.S. Postal Service plays a key role in restoring a sense of normalcy to communities. Resuming postal operations means re-establishing communication between displaced persons and their families, a vital step towards safety and comfort.
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